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The Pirates of Penzance (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Manchester Opera House

The last version of Pirates I saw was the Broadway reworking, which at the time had a very young Michael Ball, making his professional stage debut as Frederic, the naive, duty-bound, apprentice pirate love interest. So impressive was he that Cameron Mackintosh descended and whisked him off to Les Mis. That was few years ago and it's another story entirely.

This new, basically true to the original concept production, comes from a resurrected D'Oyly Carte Opera Company – the custodians of the G&S flame, almost extinguished these 10 years past but now re-ignited – and Scottish Opera.

The production has been seen around Scotland but this is its Sassenach premiere and all credit to ATG for touring a product that is somewhat different from their typical string of jukebox musicals.

Those who remember the post-war glory days of D'Oyly Carte, when the company took up residence at this very theatre for a couple of months every year, will have little to complain about re liberties taken and for those who haven't experienced the Carte cornucopia before, this is a rare opportunity to see a very British phenomenon and marvel at its witty and tuneful generosity.

Of all the Savoy operas, this merry mix of bashful pirates and comic policemen, a fleet-tongued Major-General and a whole sweet chorus of loving daughters, is probably the easiest to like because it has aged without losing its basic charm.

It's a great, constantly tuneful score, it has wit and a silly story that bounces along with plentiful surprises and interesting characters. Surtitles here, though the cast have decent diction, are a real bonus to help appreciate Gilbert's supreme way with words.

It's a big, stage-filling production, with large chorus and quite lavish period costumes displayed against amusingly stylish cartoon cut-out settings.

The orchestra is on the thin side, could do with more weight and volume, and the cast are above adequate rather than outstanding. There's no amplification and at times it is greatly missed and I have to say I did hanker after the much more in-yer-face Joe Papp treatment.

But the star of the show is the show itself and that is still wonderful, intelligent, popular entertainment. Whatever shortcomings this has, it is one of the best nights at the theatre I have had this year.

- Alan Hulme


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